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LIVING WELL: Ghost surgeons do exist

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Not many would think of a modern day surgeon as being a ghost.

Yet, some of the scariest tales that some patients have heard involve “ghost surgeons.”

These are not ethereal beings that walk through walls and make unfamiliar noises at night. There is no chain dragging, door slamming or disembodied footsteps involved.

These creatures are as real as you and me. You may even have met one without being aware of it.

A ghost surgeon is a doctor who substitutes for a colleague without the patient being told of the change prior to surgery.

Suppose, for example, you have gone to see a particular surgeon because of his excellent reputation in treating a serious disease. You meet with the doctor and arrange for a surgical procedure the next week. When you arrive, you are prepped for the procedure after signing consent forms, and eventually, the surgery is completed without any complications.

Unfortunately, what the staff fails to tell you is that your doctor will not actually be performing the surgery. Instead, another doctor who you know nothing about does the procedure. Because you are under anesthesia anyway, you will be none the wiser.

In that case, you have just been operated on by a ghost… a ghost surgeon.

This practice of surreptitiously switching surgeons on unsuspecting patients may be more widespread than most of us realize.

It is believed to happen more often in teaching hospitals than other facilities.

In fact, residents who are in training often routinely provide assistance during medical procedures, including surgery.

In many cases, they actually do the procedure under close supervision of the primary surgeon. That is how surgeons are trained.

In most teaching hospitals, consent forms do mention the possibility that your primary surgeon will not do all the work. The forms may also mention the fact that during surgery various people including residents, nurses, surgical assistants or others, may participate in the procedure.

Patients usually agree to this because they fully trust their doctor or simply feel that there is no other choice.

For patients who do not wish to allow non-disclosed doctors to step in for the primary surgeon, it is important to discuss this upfront.

By simply asking what doctor will be performing the surgery, patients can initiate a conversation that will most likely result in a clear picture of what is planned.

Although it is often the case that decisions involving complex issues must be made before and during the surgery by medical specialists, it is certainly reasonable for patients to have a clear understanding of who will perform the surgery.

The actual incidence of ghost surgery is unknown. Because it may go undiscovered and unreported, there is no way to determine how often it occurs.

It has even been reported in the most prestigious of hospitals and medical centers. In some cases that have ended in lawsuits, it has been discovered patients were intentionally misled.

In order to avoid being haunted by this type of ghost, it is important to ask questions and be sure that you clearly understand the answers.  

Most surgeons are highly ethical, superbly trained doctors and would never intentionally betray the trust of a patient.

But, if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, it may be prudent to get another opinion.
Tagged under  Health, Health Care, Living Well, Mark Kestner, Voices

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